For every headlining, nationally touring, IBMA Award-winning group out there, there are a dozen local or regional bluegrass acts keeping the roads hot and the little clubs and community centers packed. In the northern Virginia area, one of those groups is Davis Bradley, a new-ish duo made up of Kathy Davis (mandolin, guitar, bass) and Bradley Bishop (banjo, guitar, bass, and harmonica). According to their press materials, the pair played 217 shows together in 2015; their website lists eighteen on the schedule just this month! They’ve also recorded two albums in just over two years, and their music, a pleasant mixture of gentle bluegrass and acoustic country, is showcased nicely on their newest album, Into the Blue.
Of the twelve songs here, five are originals written by the pair. Opening track Get Off of Your High Horse and Get Down On Your Knees is one of the most energetic on the album. A bouncy, toe-tapping Gospel number that urges listeners to turn to the Lord, it’s given a little extra pep from guest Ron Stewart’s fiddle. Postcard from a Song is a contemplative piece about the places songs can take us, even if our “bank account is bare, like the trees in the backyard.” The wordplay and gentle singer-songwriter vibe bring to mind some of John Hartford’s more introspective songs. Lover’s Leap is a smooth historical song that makes use of the popular legend of a young Native American maiden who threw herself off a cliff for love’s sake.
Cover songs range from Toby Keith (Rodeo Moon) to Bill Monroe (Southern Flavor) to folk artist Malcom McKinney (Don’t Cry Blue). Keith’s song, written with Chris LeDoux, is an ode to the wandering life. Sung from the point of view of a man who packed up his life (and his wife) to head out on the rodeo circuit, it’s one of the most enjoyable songs on the album. It’s slowed down some from Keith’s 2002 version, which gives it a melancholy feel. Stewart’s slow, lonesome fiddle fits the song well. Southern Flavor is performed in a fairly straightforward manner, guided by Davis’s mandolin, though perhaps lacking some of the power of Monroe’s cuts. Don’t Cry Blue lets Bishop bring out his harmonica to accompany the gently rolling banjo and Davis’s warm, calm lead vocals.
Fans of the old-time brother duet style will enjoy Davis Bradley’s version of Charlie Monroe’s Why Did You Ever Say Goodbye, with its layered duet harmonies. I Heard the Bluebirds Sing features a similar harmony style. Listeners may recall the Jim & Jesse version, though the version here brings to mind the male-female duet recorded by country group The Browns in the mid-1950s.
Though most of the songs here have a full band sound, thanks to a little studio magic and the contributions of Stewart (fiddle) and Tom Gray (upright bass), Davis Bradley is, at its heart, a duo. They’re sometimes joined by a bass player on stage, but many of their live performances seem to feature Davis on mandolin, Bishop on banjo, and the two sharing vocal duties. Into the Blue is enjoyable, but I’d also like to hear more music showcasing the pair’s simpler, more stripped down duets. Perhaps on the next album?
For more information on Davis Bradley, visit their website at www.davisbradleyduo.com. Their new album is available now from Cardinyl Class Records, and can be purchased from a number of online retailers.